San Benito County voters will decide in November if a plan for a major development should move forward.
The county supervisors voted unanimously July 21 to place the Strada Verde Innovation Park project on the Nov. 3 ballot.
According to the campaign committee in support of the project, San Benito County Residents for Job Creation, 3,205 signatures were collected over 10 days to place the initiative on the ballot.
The San Benito County Registrar of Voters certified the initiative, determining 2,538 signatures were valid, above the 2,060 needed to qualify.
The 2,777-acre Strada Verde Innovation Park project, which would be accessed from the Betabel Road interchange on Highway 101, is located between highways 25 and 101, bordered by the Pajaro River to the northwest. It is near the Santa Clara County border line, roughly seven miles south of Gilroy.
Early proposals call for automotive testing facilities, including a three-mile straightaway and high-speed tracks, according to the proposal by Newport Beach-based developer Newport Pacific Land Company.
An e-commerce center including up to 5.8 million square feet is also envisioned.
The project proposes 562 acres for agriculture, as well as a 209-acre park adjacent to a three-mile stretch of the Pajaro River, where a multi-use trail and wildlife observation areas for the public would be built.
The measure would establish a Specific Plan for the property, as well as General Plan and zoning designations. Future projects on the site would go to the county for consideration.
The following question will be asked of voters:
“Shall an initiative enacting the ‘Strada Verde Innovation Park Specific Plan,’ and making County General Plan and Code Amendments, for approximately 2,777 acres in northwest San Benito County, allowing various uses (including Research/Development, Automotive Testing/Tracks, Distribution, Offices, Business/Professional Services Commercial, Light Industrial, Hospitality, Retail, and Public/Private Services) and requiring the creation of a 209.5 acre Pajaro River Park and preservation of 561.7 acres exclusively for agriculture be adopted?”
While opponents have said the initiative process will allow the developer to bypass environmental review, project proponents point to the text of the initiative, which states that California Environmental Quality Act review will be required for future development actions within the plan’s area.
Bob Tiffany, president of the San Benito County Business Council, said the county has never “seen a project that will potentially make such a positive impact as the Strada Verde commercial development.” Proponents estimate the project would bring more than 18,000 construction jobs, and once fully built out over a number of years, would provide 5,500 permanent jobs, desperately needed as the county attempts to claw its way out of the recession.
“It’s frankly hard to imagine why anyone would be against it,” Tiffany said. “These naysayers want to see absolutely no growth, including job growth, no development of any kind, anywhere in our community. If they are successful, they will destroy any chance we will have to recover from the pandemic-induced recession.”
Aromas resident Mary Hsia-Coron said she agreed with putting the initiative on the ballot, but disagreed with proponents that say CEQA review was not being bypassed. The initiative itself, which rezones the property, is not subject to environmental review, she said.
“There will be CEQA review for discretionary development,” she said. “That’s called piecemealing. Almost 3,000 acres are being rezoned from farmland to an industrial and commercial zone. That’s a big step.”
Supervisor Anthony Botelho, whose district includes the site of the proposal, said Strada Verde will provide an influx of much-needed jobs for county residents.
“Our citizens deserve good-paying jobs here and a higher quality of life,” he said. “I think this will be the catalyst that will move us forward into the next decade.”